Brazil police seize Bolsonaro's passport as net tightens in coup probe

They accused him of editing a draft decree to overturn election results and pressuring military chiefs to join a coup

Published : 8 Feb 2024, 07:18 PM
Updated : 8 Feb 2024, 07:18 PM

Brazilian police on Thursday confiscated former President Jair Bolsonaro's passport and accused him of editing a draft decree to overturn election results, pressuring military chiefs to join a coup attempt and plotting to jail a Supreme Court justice.

Thursday's operation included search warrants against four ex-ministers and the arrest of four former aides. Bolsonaro's inner circle is under investigation for allegedly plotting a military coup after his electoral loss to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2022.

The confiscation of Bolsonaro's passport augurs badly for the former leader, a far-right populist often likened to former U.S. President Donald Trump. A federal police source directly involved in Thursday's operation said seized passports can indicate the possibility of future arrests, as suspects are forced to stay in Brazil to face any potential charges.

Bolsonaro was at his beach house in Rio de Janeiro state when police arrived early on Thursday morning, demanding the document. Brazil's federal police are now in possession of the passport, which was in the capital Brasilia, Bolsonaro family spokesman Fabio Wajngarten said on social media.

According to the decision by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes that triggered Thursday's operation, Bolsonaro in November 2022 received a draft decree prepared by his aides to overturn electoral results and issue arrest warrants for Moraes, fellow Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes and Senate leader Rodrigo Pacheco.

At Bolsonaro's request, the draft decree was modified, but the arrest of Moraes and a requirement for new elections remained, said the court order, citing police investigations.

After tweaking the decree, Bolsonaro summoned military commanders and pressured them to support a putsch, according to the police account, based on phone records and plea bargain testimony from the ex-president's former aide-de-camp.

Bolsonaro's lawyer, Paulo Bueno, had no immediate comment.

"I left the government more than a year ago and I'm still suffering relentless persecution," Bolsonaro told the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper on Thursday. "Forget about me. Someone else is running the country now."

Bolsonaro has already been ruled politically ineligible until 2030 for spreading election falsehoods, and faces several other criminal probes that could land him in jail. He has denied wrongdoing and calls the investigations politically motivated.

Last week, federal police searched properties linked to his son, Carlos Bolsonaro, on suspicions he used data illegally collected by spy agency Abin to attack his father's rivals. He has denied wrongdoing.


Thursday's operation targeted some of Bolsonaro's closest allies - until recently among Brazil's most powerful men.

Search warrants were issued for properties linked to Walter Braga Netto, Bolsonaro's former running mate; Augusto Heleno, his former national security adviser; former Defense Minister Paulo Nogueira Batista and former Justice Minister Anderson Torres, among others.

The president of Bolsonaro's right-wing political party, Valdemar Costa Neto, was arrested when a search of his Brasilia home turned up an unregistered firearm, according to sources.

Bolsonaro's former international affairs adviser Filipe Martins was one of four other people arrested, the sources said. A lawyer for Martins said he was awaiting access to the warrant and supporting evidence before commenting.

Reuters attempted to contact other targets of the police operation and their lawyers, but received no immediate response.

The federal police said in a statement that the suspects were accused of participating in "a criminal organization that acted in an attempted coup d'etat" aimed at "keeping the then-President of the Republic in power."

They were spreading claims of electoral fraud "even before the election took place" to "legitimize a military intervention," the statement said.

Lula said the coup attempt had to be investigated to keep it from happening again.

"Without Bolsonaro there would have been no coup attempt," Lula said in a radio interview.